The Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts by Crown Publishers

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The Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts by Crown Publishers
$25.00

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Manufacturer Description

That Monday afternoon, in high-school gyms across America, kids were battling for the only glory American culture seems to want to dispense to the young these days: sports glory.  But at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California, in a gear-cluttered classroom, a different type of “cool” was brewing.  A physics teacher with a dream – the first public high-school teacher ever to win a MacArthur Genius Award -- had rounded up a band of high-I.Q. students who wanted to put their technical know-how to work.  If you asked these brainiacs what the stakes were that first week of their project, they’d have told you it was all about winning a robotics competition – building the ultimate robot and prevailing in a machine-to-machine contest in front of 25,000 screaming fans at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
 
But for their mentor, Amir Abo-Shaeer, much more hung in the balance.
 
The fact was, Amir had in mind a different vision for education, one based not on rote learning -- on absorbing facts and figures -- but on active creation.  In his mind’s eye, he saw an even more robust academy within Dos Pueblos that would make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) cool again, and he knew he was poised on the edge of making that dream a reality.  All he needed to get the necessary funding was one flashy win – a triumph that would firmly put his Engineering Academy at Dos Pueblos on the map.  He imagined that one day there would be a nation filled with such academies, and a new popular veneration for STEM – a “new cool” – that would return America to its former innovative glory.
 
It was a dream shared by Dean Kamen, a modern-day inventing wizard – often-called “the Edison of his time” – who’d concocted the very same FIRST Robotics Competition that had lured the kids at Dos Pueblos.  Kamen had created FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) nearly twenty years prior.  And now, with a participant alumni base approaching a million strong, he felt that awareness was about to hit critical mass. 
 
But before the Dos Pueblos D’Penguineers could do their part in bringing a new cool to America, they’d have to vanquish an intimidating lineup of “super-teams”– high-school technology goliaths that hailed from engineering hot spots such as Silicon Valley, Massachusetts’ Route 128 technology corridor, and Michigan’s auto-design belt.  Some of these teams were so good that winning wasn’t just hoped for every year, it was expected.
 
In The New Cool, Neal Bascomb manages to make even those who know little about – or are vaguely suspicious of – technology care passionately about a team of kids questing after a different kind of glory.  In these kids’ heartaches and headaches – and yes, high-five triumphs -- we glimpse the path not just to a new way of educating our youth but of honoring the crucial skills a society needs to prosper.  A new cool.



Guest Reviewer: Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell’s reputation as an education change agent runs deep. So deep that her story attracted Hollywood's attention. In January 2007, Paramount Pictures released “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank as Erin. The film is based on The Freedom Writers Diary, the New York Times bestseller that chronicles Erin's extraordinary journey with 150 high school students who have been written off by the education system. Erin and the Freedom Writers founded the Freedom Writers Foundation, which has trained hundreds of teachers in North America and around the world. More recently, Erin and Freedom Writer Teachers published Teaching Hope, which tells uplifting, devastating, and poignant stories from their classrooms--stories that provide insight into the struggles and triumphs of education in all of its forms.

The New Cool is an excellent example of how a passionate teacher can truly engage his students to dispel social stereotypes, overcome adversity and become cool in a climate that is now cheering for academic overachievers. With a group of eclectic characters more likely to despise each other than get along, Amir Abo-Shaeer encouraged the teamwork, empowerment, and admiration that all students should experience. As readers, we take the fateful journey with Amir’s students--31 high school seniors, known as "The D'Penguineers”--as they find a way to bring specific talents to their project and create an award-winning team against all odds.

Knowing that most students in high school care more about the Paris Hiltons of the world than the Dean Kamens, Amir Abo-Shaeer entered his first year of teaching with the idea of changing his students’ minds about what is cool. He developed the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy to show students the benefits of actually experiencing their education rather than just being talked at like a teacher from a Charlie Brown special, which sounds like “waa waa waa waa.” But despite the fact that his academy garnered so much attention that students were transferring to a school once on the brink of closing its doors, Amir and his hardworking students were not given adequate facilities to create a robot for the FIRST competition. Their gripping tale of having to build the most advanced robot at a nationwide competition while attempting to work together despite their obvious differences kept me flipping every page. Neal Bascomb shows the reader every angle of a classroom no larger than the average storage space, bursting with tensions, emotions, and unparalleled enthusiasm. Anyone who claims the upcoming generation has less to offer than its predecessors has not heard about “The D’Penguineers.”

As an English teacher who reveled in the transformation of my own students, the Freedom Writers, I celebrated these students' success. The New Cool is a tale of triumph both in and outside of the classroom, and featuring as it does tenacious teachers like Amir Abo-Shaeer, the book gives me hope for the future of education.